Kelly Stranburg is Vice President of Member Services with Senior Living Communities, a retirement community management company based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Building on an undergraduate degree in Sports and Leisure Studies and a Master of Education in Applied Exercise Science, Kelly has crafted a progressive wellness-based career that includes experience as a lifeguard, personal trainer, fitness instructor and health club manager. She also led corporate fitness programs at Philip Morris Cabarrus.
For the last decade, Kelly’s professional interest in fitness and health has been directed to the geriatric population. This area of focus began when she was hired to the position of Wellness Director by Senior Living Communities, charged to develop and implement an all-encompassing wellness program for both residents and employees in the company’s senior living communities throughout the southeastern United States. Kelly has since advanced to lead all life-long learning, social and wellness programming for Senior Living Communities.
Q: How did you come to be involved with health and wellness for seniors?
Seeds for my involvement with seniors were planted during a post-graduate role as a lifeguard at the local YMCA, when I was asked to lead a water aerobics class for seniors. That lively bunch of individuals opened my 22-year-old eyes to the fact that older adults can continue to have fun and live quite a life.
Subsequent fitness, business management and corporate wellness program experience gave me the foundation on which to build successful, health-oriented programming in the senior living arena. The joy of seeing seniors benefit from physical and mental activity – especially those who come to it for the first time – is always rewarding.
Q: Beyond the obvious, why is wellness important to seniors?
In large part, it relates to independence. The detrimental impacts that follow from loss of mental and physical acuity, no matter the cause, are significant. With today’s older adults living longer than ever, it is vital they retain a level of overall fitness so they can safely and autonomously handle the everyday activities of life for as long as possible and to lower the risk and impacts of disease and disability.
At best, this means they are able to take care of themselves, continue favorite activities and maintain a positive outlook on life. At a minimum, this may mean staying active and motivated to offset and push through a range of challenges and limitations.
Q: What contributes to health and wellness for seniors?
Health issues aside, many seniors decline simply due to inactivity and isolation. This makes a regular schedule of physical, as well as mentally and socially stimulating, activities an important step in avoiding the consequences of a sedentary and solitary lifestyle. And maintaining independence often translates to mobility and related physical abilities such as balance, flexibility, strength and endurance. It also includes brain health and mental agility that enables individuals to engage with others and to competently manage their own affairs.
Good physical and mental health goes a long way toward fall prevention, boosting post-surgery or illness rehabilitation, building confidence, facilitating positive social interactions and support networks, weight management and maintaining brain function. Individuals transitioning to a senior living environment should consider how the various aspects of wellness are supported in any new situation.
Q: Then why aren’t people more active as they age?
First and foremost, we are fighting the stereotypes of aging. While there are definite changes that come with age, thinking about numbers more as arbitrarily defining categories rather than what people are still capable of doing despite the passing of time, has been a prevailing and limiting attitude for far too long. It used to be that individuals 65+ years of age were expected to ‘slow down’ in retirement and ease into their ‘Golden Years.’ The current generation of seniors didn’t grow up with mainstream fitness as the norm and many ask “if I’ve never done it before, why should I start now?”
Organized classes (i.e. ‘strength training’) can be intimidating to those with no previous involvement in fitness programs or if they are embarrassed about their skill level. And of course if a person experiences illness or a range of ongoing health issues and life adjustments, it can be more difficult to engage them in physical activities and social situations.
Q: So, how do you get seniors moving?
At Senior Living Communities, we have had positive results focusing less on physical activities as being about fitness and more in presenting exercise and stimulating intellectual activities as a way for individuals to retain independence or to address the effects of specific illnesses and injuries. Something as basic as changing or broadening the names of classes to bring together a common population or those with similar challenges such as our C.L.I.M.B. classes (Confidence, Longevity, Independence, Mobility, Balance) and make it easier for people to see themselves there, is a start.
Additionally, we note that when people see firsthand for themselves the positive results in others, they are more susceptible to peer encouragement to their join friends for a class or new activity. Making classes and activities fun – even fostering some friendly competition and rewards programs helps too. Along with traditional offerings like chair exercise, yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates, we also feature innovative programs such as our award-winning Waves water aerobics, Aqua Twinges and Hinges general water-based fitness, and the dynamic Senior Circuit.
Another approach we have taken is to identify specific, purpose-driven personal goals for our residents and then help individuals meet whatever outcome is unique to them. We start small – maybe with something as basic as getting out of a chair more easily. Once that milestone is accomplished, they often set other and more aggressive goals for themselves.
Q: What makes Senior Living Communities’ approach to health and wellness unique?
Beyond offering the most innovative calendar of fitness and general health-oriented programming available, as a company we have invested in the equipment, the resources and experienced personnel to make a total and concentrated commitment to the wellness of not only of our residents, but also our community of support staff. This ‘big picture’ approach is captured in a made-up word we call ‘WELLER.’ The ‘WELLER Life’ is all about living life weller – both in terms of health, and just generally better in every way.
Importantly, the very existence of my role and path in the company confirms Senior Living Communities’ thought leadership in making health and wellness a top priority in our communities. While I set strategy and see that essential guidelines are followed, experienced trainers hired with specific niche areas of expertise are challenged and empowered to tailor programs that are unique to the needs of their individual communities.
We actually encourage them to be creative with ideas and give them latitude in ‘trying anything’ they think will work to not only maintain—but to improve—the well-being of individuals they work with on a daily basis. This decentralized approach has resulted in numerous popular ‘best practices’ offerings that are shared with other communities.
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